Sunday, March 25, 2012

Major Wrongs

One of the nicest things about living in Singapore is that you always have to have faith in the system to inspire you. Just when I thought I was running out of things to blog about, along comes the Young Muslim Politician from Pasir Ris GRC who proudly eats pork aka Thambi Pundek to remind me what’s wrong with Singapore – thus giving me something to blog about.

For some reason he decided to tell me about his national service in the air conditioned office. It seems that a few days ago there was a major who decided to drive through camp gates without going through the proper security channels. To stop the major, the Regimental Policeman (RP) on duty ended up pointing his riffle at the man’s car (as he is expected to under the rules).

Upon seeing a gun pointed at him, the major stepped out of his car, walked up to the RP – grabbed him by the neck and apparently said, “You dare to treat me like a terrorist – it’s you Muslims who are the bloody terrorist.” To his credit, the RP didn’t flinch and called the man a “Chinese Cunt.” The enraged major took this issue up with the camp’s management and the RP has been duly charged and sentenced to do time in the Detention Barracks (DB) – thus prolonging his National Service and probably earned him a criminal record using his gun.

I got upset when he told me this story and I think there were several times when I was ready to throw my cup at him. I pray that this story is not true and he’s fabricating it. However, since I actually served National Service (combat role and combat unit), I believe that this story is plausible and illustrates one of the greatest wrongs with Singapore today –namely, we have now become two societies with two different rules and we have revolting people like the Young Pork Eating Muslim Politician from Paris Ris GRC aka Thambi Pundek, who instead of fighting to make the system better, fight to enforce the status quo.

Guard Duty is one of the most important duties of a junior commander. When you are on duty, you are responsible for the security of the camp. You have to ensure that people entering the camp are the people who should be entering the camp and you have to see that those people who say they’ll leave the camp at a certain time actually do so.

To do this job, guard commanders and the RPs are given certain powers. They can and should stop everyone driving into camp and check that they have the necessary IDs. Both guards and regimental police have the right to search vehicles regardless of who is driving the car. The Guards and RPs have the right to order people out of their cars – at gun point if deemed necessary. Both Camp Guards and RPs are within their rights to shoot a person who does not halt when they are told to do so (theoretically you are supposed to give three warnings and fire a warning shot before you shoot the bugger).

This is generally how things are supposed to be run. In practice, we do give a bit of leeway when executing our duties. For example, many of us tend to be less stringent when checking people from our own unit – ie we know the people who should be coming in and out of the camp. The rule book does say that nobody books into camp from 0000-to-0630. It also does say that the guard commander should be flexible when it comes to anyone with a rank of major and above. The rules about checking ID still apply. In Khatib Camp, where I was stationed, the one person whom you didn’t need to check with the Chief of Artillery whose car was the most recognizable in the camp. When he drove by, you just saluted.

From experiences, the top people (major and above) were usually very nice. I remember stopping the Head Logistics of HQ SA. When he pointed out that his car had a camp pass, I pointed out that the sticker on the car only permitted the car to enter the camp – not the driver. This was a man with class. He looked at me and said, “keep up the good work – you are doing an important job and you should do it by the rules.” What I found to be true in my military experiences, I’ve found to be true in my civilian experiences. The high level people that I now deal with (CEOs, MDs, GMs, MPs, and Ministers etc.) tend to be pleasant and very reasonable.

The shit heads belong to middle management. In the army, this usually means senior members of the Warrant Officer and Specialist Corps and junior officers (usually captains) are the ones who give you the most problems. These are the ones who throw tantrums and threaten you for doing your job. It’s as if they expect you to create a special exemption for them just because they are senior to you. The best way to handle this lot is to your job because … well the rules are on your side.

Being a power drunk shit is not limited to Singapore. I remember reading about a Sergeant-Major in the US military who once was responsible for enforcing speed limits in camp. He points out that there were colonels who would remind him that they outranked him several times. His standard reply was, “I appreciate the fact that you outrank me Sir, but you should also be aware that because you outrank me several times over, you should be even more embarrassed to be in this situation, Sir.”

I’ve not experienced a junior commander in this Singapore military having this much confidence in dealing with their superiors. However, many of us eventually learn to be firm and diplomatic as we mature through our service period. If I look back at my previous experiences, I wish I had been more firm on certain occasions because, well, I never realized my Duty Officers were quite supportive.

My national service period was in the pre-September 11, 2001 period. The military, like organizations took security seriously but not fanatically. These days, things are officially different. Security measures have been stepped up since my day. So you would imagine that people would have become more cooperative when it comes to enforcing basic security measures inside a military camp.

Judging by the way the Young Pork Eating Muslim Politician from Pasir Ris GRC aka Thambi Pundek tells this story, I can’t help but feel that a major wrong has taken place and it shows me that there’s something drastically wrong in the way the system is applied.

Let’s start with the fact that the major did not do through the check points he was supposed to go through. By definition he has already broken the rules.

Then let’s go to the fact that the RP pointed a rifle at his car. Does this action sound drastic? Yes, it does. I don’t recall being in a situation where I had to point a rifle at anyone and I don’t think I’m alone in this. I mean there were times when I was tempted to but it never seemed worth it. Having said all of that, times have changed. This is the post September 9, 2001 world where the mantra is – you can never be too prepared when it comes to enforcing security measures. Let’s add to the fact that as the Young Pork Eating Muslim Politician from Pasir Ris GRC aka Thambi Pundek says, “The RP was acting as directed by Standard Operating Procedures (SOP).” To me, the RP’s actions sounded a little drastic but he was well within his obligations to do what he did.

Let’s look at the Major’s reaction. Yes, it’s not nice to have a gun pointed at you. However, as a senior officer, this particular Major could have addressed the issue calmly and firmly. Instead, he reacted angrily and grabs the RP by the neck. By any military and civil definition, this is assault, which is a felony. I would argue that the RP’s mistake was not to promise to shoot the major for approaching him in what I could only imagine to be an agitated manor.

I look back at my senior officers and I feel I lived in a different era. I remember then Major (now full colonel) Tan Chong Boon, the former CO of 21 SA telling the unit Physical Training Instructor (PTI) that he expected him to be firm in conducting IPPT for officers ie he was not to be intimidated by his superiors into letting them pass with an easier standard. This is leadership – to give your subordinates confidence to do their jobs without being bullied.

Like I said, I hope this is just the Young Pork Eating Muslim Politician from Pasir Ris GRC aka Thambi Pundek being silly. It shocks me that when it comes to this incident, a young full time National Serviceman’s life is going to be ruined just because he did his job according to the letter of the rules.

The Young Pork Eating Muslim Politician from Pasir Ris GRC aka Thambi Pundek proceeded to argue with me. His point was, the RP should have known that you can never win a fight with ones superiors and he should have let the major carry on. His point was simple – serve your national service and don’t rock the boat.

May be he has a point. Why rock the boat? However, if you apply his thought process to this incident and see how it applies to how he views the rest of his life, you can’t help but shudder. This Young Thing is actively endorsing the idea of – One Rule for Some and One Rule for Another.

I can’t fathom it? The RP was punished for doing his job and the major gets off with not so much as a slap on the wrist when he was nearly wrong at every turn. Yes, rank rules in the military. This isn't’t unique to Singapore. However, those with rank are expected to play by the rules and to uphold the rules. They are NOT supposed to break the rules and to endorse rule breaking by punishing those who enforce the rules when they actually do their jobs.

Seriously, how can we call ourselves a “non-corrupt” society when we tolerate these things happening? A major wrong has been committed by anybody’s definition.


Anonymous said...

I had a very,very, VERY senior civil servant of a very expensive ministry told me over the phone " Rules are good, but you must know who you apply it to!", when I was in charge of camp security in the '90s.

Anonymous said...

Interesting story!